An Overview of Indiana Criminal Appeals

You got convicted of a crime, it’s all over, right? Not exactly.

If you take a matter to trial and are convicted you have a constitutional right to appeal that conviction.  While there are many different manners and ways you can take a matter up on appeal in a criminal case, the general concept is easiest to understand post-conviction.   We are just going to cover the basics of the appeals process and the typical standards of review in this post, but if you have any questions, be sure to contact the Attorneys with Banks & Brower, LLC for additional information specific to your case.Once a Judge enters a final judgement on a case in the Chronological Case Summary (i.e. finding of guilty and sentencing), under the Indiana Rules of Appellate Procedure you have 30-days to file your Notice of Appeal with the Trial Court.  If you do not file this within 30-days or file a timely Motion to Correct Error to toll (aka stop) the “Appeal Clock,” you run the risk of a Trial Judge denying your Motion to File Belated Appeal (and there needs to be a better reason than “I forgot”).  Once your notice has been filed and accepted by the Trial Court, you wait while the transcripts of the proceedings are typed up by the court reporter.  By rule they must get this done within 90-days, however routinely there are extensions.

During this whole process the Indiana Courts of Appeal (or Supreme Court for certain matters) will open up your new appellate case entitled (Your Name) v. State of Indiana.  Since you are appealing the matter and have the burden of proof, you are called the “appellant” and the State of Indiana is called the “appellee.”  Once the court reporter files a notice of completion of the transcript, you have 30-days to file your Appellant’s Brief (however you can get an extension of time if timely filed with the appellate court your case is filed in).  During these 30-days you begin the most important part of your appeal: structuring your argument.

What you plan to base your appeal on is key to whether or not you can get a successful outcome.  Remember: In a criminal appeal you are essentially asking for a new trial or for an order of an entry favorable to you (i.e. suppressing evidence, a different sentence, or a recalculation of fines, fees and costs you must pay).  In order to better determine how to structure your appeal, you have to determine whether the “issues” you see are ones of fact, law or a combination of the two.  This is important so you can determine what standard of review you are asking the appellate court to analyze your “issues” under.

Generally speaking:

Questions of Fact

Questions of Fact are those issues that can fall under a who, what, when, where, how or why category.  An example is determining what someone’s intent or mental state was on the date in question.  These matters are of the type that our appellate courts provide a standard of review that’s known as great deference to the finder of fact (trial court or jury).  Meaning the appellate court will not reverse or disagree with the trial court and their findings of fact except in circumstances where the trial court made a decision that is contrary to logic and circumstances, or common sense.  Basically, the evidence is not given a second look over so long as there is a logical basis for the trial court deciding the way it did.

Questions of Law

Questions of Law are those issues that require us to determine how a law operates or what that law means.  These matters go through the appellate process under a standard of review known as de novo or anew.  Under this standard of review, the appellate court will look over all the facts and circumstances, apply the appropriate legal standard(s) and determine if there are any issues that warrant a change.

Mixed Questions of Fact & Law

Mixed Questions of Fact & Law is generally the most common scenario in any criminal case for appellate purposes since you want to argue that the facts in this case should be decided under this legal principle or authority and NOT how the trial court decided.  An example is determining if law enforcement had sufficient probable cause (i.e. facts and circumstances known to the officer leading them to believe a crime is being committed) to arrest someone.  While probable cause requires us to look at factual matters, the question as to whether there are enough facts to meet the legal standard is a question grounded in legal principles.  So, this would require a de novo standard of review and not great deference.

You can see how easy it would be to confuse a legal issue with a factual one, so it’s paramount for your attorney at the trial level to lay a proper record (or for them to be sure to fully determine how the trial court is deciding things) so that there is no speculation on the part of the appellate court.  In fact, the appellate courts will NOT speculate and will assume the trial court made implicit findings of fact to support the original ruling (i.e. great deference).

While the standard of review can be determined by the nature of the issue, sometimes the standard is determined by the proceeding where that issue is decided.  These situations can be analyzed by the appellate court in a de novo or great deference standard or under an abuse of discretion or clearly erroneous standard:

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of discretion applies most often on the trial court’s evidentiary rulings.  The general test is whether the trial court acted in a way that was arbitrary or unreasonable or whether they acted without reference to any guiding rules and principles.  You must be sure if you are raising this standard that your argument does not involve credibility determinations as this standard generally does not involve any applications of law to a fact question or any mixed questions of fact and law.  A good example is whether the trial court abused its discretion in excluding or allowing scientific or expert evidence under the Rules of Evidence.  This standard of review would not allow you to argue the credibility of the evidence or witness(es) but would allow you to argue that the evidence is not scientifically reliable and the trial court failed to keep such evidence out.

Clearly Erroneous

Clearly erroneous is a standard that is very similar to great deference and the appellate court must be left with only the determination that a mistake has been committed.  It is extremely difficult to illustrate a difference between these two standards and they are frequently stated as being the same or interchangeable by the courts of appeal.
An appellate case might involve questions of law and fact, arguments as to the sufficiency of the evidence from a legal or factual basis, arguments for or against whether the ruling by the trial court was “harmless error,” arguments that the State or perhaps you bear a burden on appellate review, matters to be argued under a Federal and/or State constitutional lens and so on.  This post and the above standards just scratch the surface of the appellate process and the standard(s) of review that might apply in any given case.

If you or somebody you know has recently been convicted of a crime or has questions about the appellate process, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC.  We are available at all times by calling us at (317) 870-0019 or by emailing info@banksbrower.com.